138 THE GAY GENIUS All his life Su Tungpo took part at courtesans' dinners, and nine times out of ten had to write poems on shawls or fans by request of the entertainers. "Oh, hush the night, each minute an ounce of gold, While faindy floats the music of flute and song. So fragrant the air, so cool the moonlit courtyard, While darkly glides the silent night along." Su wrote many sentimental poems about women, but he never wrote erotic poetry, as his friend Huang Tingchien did. The Sung courtesans had popularised a new form of poetry, the tse, and Su Tungpo mastered it and transformed it from a metre for sentimental poetry of the lovelorn into a vehicle fit to express any thought or sentiment in his breast. One of his best tse was on the "Red Cliff", whose theme was the passing of great ancient warriors. Li Po and Tu Fu had sung three centuries earlier, and by their genius had made the Tang quatrain and double quatrain the regular verse patterns for a distinguished host of imitators. But these quatrain forms, uni- formly of five or seven words to the line, with the inevitable two couplets in the middle, had become stereotyped. Every poet tried to evolve a new style. But the last nuance in observation of a waterfall or an egret or die shadows of willow trees had been discovered, and somehow the richness and emotional intensity of the Tang poets were gone. What was more serious, even poetic diction had become a repeti- tion of hackneyed metaphors. Some of them were bad in themselves- to begin with. Su Tungpo wrote in a preface to one of his poems on snow that he was determined not to use the word salt. After all, snow was a better word. The themes of Tang poetry had been overplayed, and the language too often deliberately harked back to lines by other poets, giving a secret delight to the learned reader who knew where that particular twist of thought and expression came from. It was the tracing of the expressions to their obscure sources that gave the greatest opportunity for the "commentators" to display their pedantry. As a rule, writers of the so-called commentaries on collected poems did not consider it part of their duty to elucidate the meaning or judge th*g quality of the poem, but contented themselves with pointing out the! source of a particular expression. The liberation of poetry from decadent inertia always came from Ae growth of a new form of poems popularised by the courtesans. The language was fresh and new, the Sung tse was closer to the ver- nacular than Tang poems, and the later Yuan drama was still closer to Ae vernacular than Sung tse. The tse was nothing but a song written to a given piece of music. People did not "write" tse, they "filled in"